Tanya Kalmanovitch grew up in Fort McMurray next to the biggest bitumen reservoir in the world. The Julliard trained musician acknowledges that “oil paved the way for my family to go from being rural poor people to entering the middle class.”
In addition to a thriving international musical career, the violinist has become an environmental and climate activist while recognizing how many families, including her own, benefited from the oil industry.
Blending both her passions together, music and climate awareness, Kalmanovitch has created The Tar Sands Songbook, a one-woman performance piece weaving storytelling, photography, improvised music, and recordings.
This 80-minute piece of documentary theatre is the Canadian premiere and takes place on Monday, Nov. 20 at Star of the North Retreat. The project is currently on tour in Alberta and British Columbia and is offered free to communities along the Trans Mountain Pipeline, including St. Albert.
“This is a conversation about the industry and about her compassion for the community. She lived in Fort McMurray and has an affectionate place in her memory of it,” said associate producer Louise Casemore, formerly a Paul Kane High student.
“Tanya feels an urgent need to talk about the industry and its impact on the community. This is more a call for conversation as opposed to a demand for action,” Casemore said.
The project’s origin story started around the 2015 Keystone XL Pipeline controversy when Kalmanovitch was sitting on a panel in the United States discussing climate and environmental action.
“The topic of Fort McMurray came up and the conversation turned into a condemnation of the oil sands. Throughout the discussion Tanya was sitting in a chair feeling as if she had a secret. She finally confessed she came from Fort McMurray. That brought everything to a halt. But it was that panel discussion that inspired her to compose The Tar Sands Songbook.”
As part of the oil sands culture, Kalmanovitch shares a unique perspective. The dialogue provides first-hand accounts that combine her experiences with that of First Nation elders, oil patch workers, Indigenous activists, scientists, and family.
In a media release, Kalmanovitch stated, “I am a child of oil country. My father, uncles and cousins worked in the oil sands: oil paved our way into the middle class. But my Ukrainian grandmother, mother and aunts taught me a different order of survival. Raised on a subsistence farm in central Manitoba, they taught me to honour the land because it was the difference between starving and staying alive.”
Dr. Michael MacDonald, an award-winning cine musicologist currently teaching at MacEwan University will be touring with Kalmanovitch and capturing the road story. His focus will be the impact on communities and the conversations that arise from the production.
The Tar Sands Songbook is Monday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 3A St. Vital Avenue. Tickets are free, however registration at eventbrite.ca is required.